Friday, February 25, 2011

Lessons in Providing Students Wireless Access in Our School Building

In an earlier post,  entitled “Giving Students Wireless Access to Use Personal Computing Devices,” I described our procedure for providing wireless access for students to use their own personal computing devices. Our school has been experimenting with providing our students with WiFi for about three weeks now. All around our school and in our classes students are using their own laptops, netbooks, and smartphones to access the Internet for instructional purposes. The early reports from my staff are things are going fairly well, but we have learned a few things early. Here are some suggestions based on our experiences:

1.  Assign one staff member to be the administrator of your wireless access process. One of the teachers in our school agreed to take on that responsibility. That has made giving students wireless access seamless and non-problematic. Students now know that if they want to access, there is one contact person to inspect their computers for anti-virus protection, record their Mac address, and provide them with their password and username.

2. Expect there to be minor connectivity issues. As with any new process there will be glitches, and some of them will be technology-based. For example, our network automatically logs off users when their user account has been inactive for 10 minutes. We are currently exploring settings and options to address this issue. We expect there to be other technological and procedural glitches in the coming weeks, but so far giving students the access has outweighed the problems.

3.  Students appreciate having access so much, they appear to be less likely to abuse the privilege. One of the greatest worries by administrators is that students will somehow abuse their new freedom. So far, it appears our students enjoy having the access, and that means they are less likely to engage in accessing web sites not permitted. For example, it was reported to me that one student admonished another to not use proxies while using his computer. His words were, “They have my computer’s Mac address, so they can trace it back to me, so don’t use proxies.”

As we continue with our implementation of our student wireless access procedure, I am positive we will learn more in the coming weeks, and I am not naïve enough to believe that we will not have a student abuse the privilege. Nevertheless, I believe firmly that providing our students wireless access is a step toward the 21st century.

Note: Earlier, I offered to send to those who were interested, copies of our procedure for providing wireless access for our students. Many have emailed me asking for an electronic copy. I will be glad to send anyone a copy if you will email me at:

Before You Press Send: 3 Quick Rules for Email Responses

Here’s an interesting story I stumbled upon while reading the site entitled “Insulting Email and Vanishing Comments.” Apparently, a school board member responded to a constituent by email and violated the important rule of “reading your response from the perspective of the recipient.” Now, that school board member is having to endure a situation where the parent is sharing the email with everyone.

Those who still hold on to some kind of belief that email is like a phone call are mistaken. Email is its own media, and it has its own characteristics and features that should guide how we use it. For example, if you respond to someone by phone, there’s the opportunity for immediate feedback on what you’re saying. If someone is offended by what you say, they may immediately let you know by their angered voice. With email, there’s just words, and words convey tone loudly and clearly. What I might consider to be a benign response to a question, in fact, might be considered to be sarcastic or flippant. And there’s other differences as well. The truth is, we need to abide by some important rules when responding to email. Here’s some of my own.

1.  Never send an email when highly emotional. I’ve heard several people reiterate this one to me over the past few years and it makes sense. Often, I’ve received an email that makes me angry, or makes me want to pound out a rebuke and send it. That is not good practice for obvious reasons. Our emotions guide our word choices, and those words convey tone. Wait until the emotion has subsided.

2. If you type an email in a fit of passion, save it as a draft and return to it later when you are calmer. There is no rule that says an email has to be responded to immediately. If you just can’t help yourself and you have to type out that response, go ahead and do so, just don’t send it until you are more level-headed and be sure re-read it with rule 3 in mind. Once the email is sent, it can’t be retrieved.

3. When you re-read your response, read it from the perspective of the recipient and the public. Reading your response from the perspective of the recipient makes sense. This will help detect those subtle message tones conveyed by the language and words you’re using. Reading from the perspective of the public makes sense too, sense technically, that email response might be considered public record. Or, it might just get forwarded to someone else. Before you know it, you have a public relations problem with email bouncing around every where.

No doubt email is an important way to make contact, and contrary to some of the headlines I read a few years ago, I do not thing email is going any where. It is part of our culture and way of life. It can be an excellent way to communicate, but it requires us to be vigilant about what we say in ways that might not have existed in the past.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Must Read for School Administrations Who Want to Be Technology Leaders: Horizon Report 2011

One of the documents I would recommend as a “must-read” for administrators is the annual Horizon Report, developed ever year by the New Media Consortium. While this report is not predictive, it does provide valuable information that administrators can use to develop a vision for technology’s role in their schools or districts. It’s three main sections provide specific kinds of information useful for technology leaders.

  1. The “Technologies to Watch” section of the Horizon Report  provides administrators a glimpse of where technology is moving in education. While the direction of technological innovation is unpredictable, and its adoption even more unpredictable, the Horizon Report does provide an overall picture of where current technology adoption is going. For example, in the 2010 Horizon Report there were two technologies on the near horizon of adoption. Those two technologies were: 1) mobile computing and 2) open content. When compared to the near-horizon technologies in the 2011 Horizon Report, 1) electronic books and 2) mobiles, administrators and educators can get a consistent picture where the adoption trends are going. This glimpse of where technology is moving can help administrators be technology leaders. They can engage their staffs in discussions about what is possible and ways to innovate.
  2. The “Critical Challenges” portion of the Horizon Report can provide administrators with a list of possible barriers to technology integration and implementation in their schools or districts. For example, both the 2010 and 2011 Horizon Report stress the importance of “digital literacy as a skill in every discipline and profession.” Armed with this information, school leaders can advocate for the need of digital literacy in teacher preparation programs and in ongoing professional development. They can also lead staff in the development of curriculum that engages students in learning digital literacy skills. Over time, the increased digital literacy skills among students and staff enhance efforts at technology integration and implementation. It is helpful to be a technology leader that knows what may hinder integration and implementation.
  3. The “Key Trends” section of the Horizon Report provides school leaders with a short list of those technological pressures that are already impacting education. For example, the top key trend listed in the Horizon Reports for 2010 and 2011 is “The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the Internet is increasingly challenging us to revisit our roles as educators in sense-making, coaching, and credentialing.” The Web is truly acting as a disrupter to what we are doing in our schools, and there is absolutely no way to avoid how it is pressuring all of us, from administrators to teachers, to change both our roles and how we carry out our jobs. The “Key Trends” section of the Horizon report provides administrators with a futuristic perspective with which to plan and develop a vision for the future.

There’s no doubt the Horizon Report can be valuable for school administrators. It is one of several documents that can help administrators develop an adequate vision for technology’s place in their schools or districts. School leaders need to add this document to their must-read list. Technology directors and technology lead teachers might want to send their administrators and school leaders links to these documents and encourage them to read them or review the 2011 Horizon Report Video below. We must engage school leaders in envisioning the possibilities of technology in education, and the Horizon Report is one of many tools we can use to do that.

Links to Five Years of Horizon Reports

Year of Report PDF Link
2011 Horizon Report Web Version
2010 Horizon Report Web Version
2009 Horizon Report Web Version
2008 Horizon Report Web Version
2007 Horizon Report Web Version


Video on 2011 Horizon Report


Monday, February 14, 2011

5 Considerations for Using Electronic Books in Schools

At the top of the 2011 Horizon Report’s technology adoption list is electronic books. This is not surprising since more and more people are turning to reading electronic books. A BISG (Book Industry Study Group) survey in 2010 stated that “E-book sales grew exponentially in first quarter 2010 jumping from 1.5% of total US book sales in 2009 to 5% of the market in first quarter of 2010.” According to the American Association of Publishers, E-Book sales were up 193% in October of this past year. There is no doubt about the growing market place for electronic books and the shrinking market for print books. On a personal note, I have now joined the e-book buyers market myself with purchases of several electronic books in the past three months. Electronic books are quite popular with consumers and the 2011 Horizon Report acknowledges that.
“Now that they are firmly established in the consumer sector, electronic books are beginning to demonstrate capabilities that challenge the very definition of reading. Audiovisual, interactive, and social elements enhance the informational content of books and magazines. Social tools extend the reader’s experience into the larger world, connecting readers with one another and enabling deeper, collaborative explorations of the text. The content of electronic books and the social activities they enable, rather than the device used to access them, are the keys to their popularity; nearly everyone carries some device that can function as an electronic reader, and more people are engaging with electronic books than ever before.”
My own personal experience has been that most of the electronic books I have purchased thus far are only text. I have purchased two “enhanced” electronic books that include some videos, but rather than take true advantage of the multi-media possibilities of electronic books, they appeared to just throw the video in with the text. What should we do as school leaders as we consider the use of electronic books in our schools? Here’s my own shortlist of considerations based on the 2011 Horizon Report:

1. As we consider moving to electronic books, we need to demand products that are more than electronic versions of text. Electronic books bring with them the possibility of interactivity and multimedia. We should look for products that include interactive video, graphics, and activities. If we are only going to use electronic versions of the texts were already use, we are not taking advantage of the electronic book format. This format offers so many possibilities. Check out this video entitled “The Future of the Book” to get an over of these possibilities.

The Future of the Book. from IDEO on Vimeo.

2. We should look for electronic books that foster and enhance the use of social tools for collaboration. Why can’t electronic books have the ability to allow students to collaborate while trying to understand their content? Perhaps electronic text books can somehow capitalize on the use of social networks like Twitter or Facebook. Reading a print textbook was often a solitary activity, but electronic text formats open the possibility for students to collaborate while trying to make sense of its content.

3. We should purchase devices that allow the use of all brands of electronic texts. The temptation might be to stock our classrooms with Kindles or Nooks in order to utilize electronic texts. As we all know, technological devices evolve and change so rapidly, schools could be left holding the “Kindle” so to speak. Perhaps a better investment would be to purchase tablets (iPads or Android devices). The proprietary e-reader software can then be downloaded to these devices so that schools are not tied to the fortunes of one specific kind of device.

4. We should open our school WiFi so that students can access electronic texts using their mobile devices. As the Horizon Report points out, there are some text subscription services that have apps that students can use on their mobile devices to access their content. Giving students one more level of access takes away one more additional excuse. A student can’t say, “I left my book in my locker any longer” when asked about a homework assignment.

5. We should explore all of the growing open source electronic text options that are appearing. As more and more schools turn to electronic texts, the sources of open source electronic texts are sure to grow. In times when our textbooks budgets keep getting slashed, the motto, “Free is good” makes even more sense.

As the consumer market for electronic books expands more and more, schools are going to find it more difficult to ignore this trend. But instead of waiting until electronic books for education become available, perhaps we need to become engaged now so that we can design electronic books that take advantage of multimedia, interactivity, and collaboration.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Key Thoughts from 2011 Horizon Report

This past week, The New Media Consortium and the Educause Learning Initiative release the annual Horizon Report.  To check out an online version of the Horizon Report 2011, see here. You can also use this link to download a PDF version.

What does the report have to say to our current circumstances in educational technology? An interesting place to start is to look at what the report calls “Key Drivers or Technological Trends” affecting teaching and learning specifically, and education in general.

According to the 2011 Horizon Report, there are four key drivers to current educational technology practices. These include: 1) “The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the Internet is increasingly challenging to us to revisit our roles as educators in sense-making, coaching, and credentialing,” 2)”People expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want,” 3)”World of work is increasingly collaborative, giving rise to reflection about the way student products are structured,” and 4) “Technologies we use are increasingly cloud-based and notion of IT support decentralized.” What do these trends mean for education? For my own school and school district, these trends are changing how we go about the business of educating our students.

First of all, the abundance of resources on the Internet has already impacted what teachers do in our school. Walk into any of our classrooms, and you’ll see students often engaged in content from the Web. Our labs run full throttle each and every day, while we try to provide students with access to these resources. We have even opened our WiFi so that students can access the Internet with their own personal devices.  Students in our school use this Web content to create authentic learning projects to present to their peers. The role of our teachers has become learning facilitator in those instances. Project-based learning guides is a true cornerstone of learning.

Secondly, as a school we are beginning to see the expectation from our students that they be able to learn and study whenever and wherever they want. Much of our students are engaged in online classes. They expect to be able to work and learn in these classes both at school and at home. Our students are also yearning for learning that expands beyond the walls of our school. Yet, to be honest, other than online classes, we aren’t fully there. Our teachers are exploring anytime, online learning environments like Edmodo, and are experience success with these. In the coming year, we want to make it even more possible for our students to learn any where they want to learn. We know learning does not just take place in the rooms of our school.

Thirdly, collaboration is a cornerstone of our school. The first thing you notice when you walk into our school: there are no individual student desks, only tables with chairs. This is purposeful. Our teachers use every opportunity to get students working collaboratively. Where can we go next? Perhaps we should explore working collaboratively with groups of students outside the walls of our building. We have Skype, Google Docs, and aEdmodo, so the tools are there, we just need to make the connections with the world.

Finally, we are already engaged in cloud-based technological solutions. Our school system uses Google Apps already. My teaching staff uses Google Docs for all kinds of documents they need to be shared and collaborated upon. Skype is one of the first software programs we all activate in the mornings. We have students using Dropbox instead of toting flashdrives. We are getting ready to buy Glogster accounts for all of our students. Right now, the only limitation to our use of cloud-based technologies is funding. The truth is, we are increasingly engaged in using cloud tools, and our IT department is happy because there is no need to provide tech support for those applications.

The 2011 Horizon Report’s Key Drivers to educational technology trends are more evident to me every day as I watch our students and teachers engage in the use of technology as a normal part of teaching and learning. My challenge as a school leader and administrator is to tear down the barriers that get in the way of effectively engaging technology, and to fight for the resources and support in a time when some want to cut those.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Google Alerts: A Tool for Customizing an Administrator’s Flow of Information

In my earlier post, I discussed how Google Reader gives me the ability to control all the information on the Internet that is vying for my attention. There’s another tool from Google that assists me in my information control measures and that is Google Alerts.

I won’t take the time to instruct in how to set up and use Google Alerts, because there are some resources that do that much better than I can:

I use Google Alerts to keep up with the information flow about education policy, education reform, and technology. I would encourage educators and specifically administrators to take advantage of this tool for the following reasons:

  • Google Alerts allows me to gather information on topics of interest automatically. For example, one of my current areas of interest is “cell phone use in the classroom.” I have added that search phrase and variations of it to collect news articles, blog posts, and other web items about that topic. An email arrives in my inbox every day with links to recent information collected. Google does the work of collecting the links, all I need to do is sort through for relevance and interest.
  • Google Alerts gives me the ability to see the latest on select topics. One of my favorite topics recently has been ESEA reauthorization. With Google Alerts, I receive an email update of Google’s latest finds on that topic every day. It gives me the means to follow the latest postings about what the Obama administration is doing with reauthorization of ESEA. The links that Google Alerts provides me each are the latest postings on the topics I’ve chosen.
  • Google alerts allows me to follow a number of topic streams at once. There are a great deal of things happening in education at the current moment. Trying to follow those multiple streams of information can be difficult. With Google Alerts, I type in all the topics I want to currently follow, and each day I receive emails with links to items under those topics. I can follow as many topics as I want. The greater danger is junking up your email inbox with so many Google Alerts you don’t have time to sort through them all.

In combination with Google Reader and Google Alerts, I can effectively manage a large share of the information I want to follow. With Google Alerts, I can effectively tell Google which items I want to pay closer attention to, and it delivers those items to me.

5 Reasons Administrators Need to Use Google Reader

One of the questions that face those with a growing Professional Learning Network is: How can you effectively manage the flow of information? Also, a related question is: With all of the information available at any given moment on the Web, how can I possibly hope to keep abreast of the cutting edges issues in education?  One of these information management tools for me is Google Reader. It is my front-line solution in staying on top of education issues.
Getting administrators who are not heavy web users to use Google Reader. might need some convincing and a general understanding of what it does. I think this video “Google Reader in Plain English” an excellent starting point to provide them with an over view of what Google Reader does.

Google Reader in Plain English

Recently, I shared with some of our central office administrators how Google Reader helps me keep up with the massive flow of education information. Here are my top five reasons for using Google Reader (Or RSS Readers in General if you wish):

1. Since our school system converted to Google Apps last summer, utilizing Google Reader makes sense. There are desktop RSS aggregators out there, and a number of them have more features than Google Reader. But since we are already using Google Apps, it makes sense to avoid adding just another desktop program to our computers. Google Reader is easy to set up and with our administrators’ already existing Gmail and Google App accounts adding another program icon on which they must click just muddies the water more.
2. Google Reader allows me to subscribe to specific sites that offer the latest news impacting education. For example, I currently follow the US Department of Education’s site through Google Reader. I get every news release by that department as soon as they post it. I also follow other sites like ASCD and the National School Boards Association. Many of these sites provide daily updates on educational issues impacting schools now or in the near future. Google Reader gives me the capability to often follow the news at its source, and most of the time I see the information before it comes to me through a state department of education email or a superior’s newsletter.
3. Google Reader allows me to follow blogs that consistently provide top-notch information and ideas. For example, one of my favorite blogs is Lifehacker. This site provides lots of ideas on shortcuts both technological and common sense. Google Reader brings it’s latest posts to me rather than requiring me to visit their site every day. I can follow many of these blogs that provide an on-going flood of ideas and information.
4. The format of Google Reader allows me to easily scan articles. If the article is one that I should read more completely, I download that article for a closer look. If it’s one I want to make even more extensive notes, I pull it over to Diigo. The way Google Reader downloads the feeds and formats (which is also customizable) makes skimming and scanning so easy. I choose which ones need more attention.
5. Since Google Reader follows sources and not specific topics, I get to decide which sources to follow. While Google Reader does make suggestions for other blogs to follow, I decide which ones satisfy my information needs.  I have complete control of the information sources I review each day, which means have control of both the quality of information I want and the quantity. Google Reader puts the user in the driver’s seat over the flow of information.

Google Reader is truly a solution that allows me to have some control over my information flow each day. In the 21st century, administrators, and I would add all educators, need to use the tools that are available to assist us with this information-saturated, global environment. Google Reader does that for me.